Complement Mixed Schemes

Art 260 / Greg Clayton

4-scheme design or series, based on complement-mixed colors

Create a Set of four paintings or designs that each use the same basic palette of source hues.

Goal: Explore the range of expressive color possibilities of a single palette of hues.

1st: Select your base colors (or parent colors).
All of your color mixes will rely on these colors. Select between 2 and 4 major hues that are either complementary or near complementary. You might select your source colors from you Complement Mix Plate — pick from 2-to-4 colors from the left hand side — select neighboring colors, immediately above or below each other on the Complement Mix Plate.

Create a distinct color scheme in each of your 4 designs, yet relate each of the four schemes by repeating some of the colors. Your four designs need to have a strong unity among them. The most reliable tactic is to repeat colors in the palettes. While one scheme may be dominated by a warm hue, another by a cool hue, and another by neutrals, the warm, cool and neutral colors may be used in all four designs.
Explore the varied possibilities of complement-mixes and near-complement mixes.  Dominate your design with these complement-mixed colors. We're aiming, in these designs, to explore just how visually varied, low-chroma, complement-mixed colors can be when use in composition. In practice, many real-world designs expect chroma to be kept rather low. We, however, expect our designs to be visually stimulating. Complement mixes offer a strategy for achieving both aims in the same composition.
In each design/painting, plan and developo a) dominant hue, b) dominant value, c) dominant chroma, and d) dominant contrast.  These color-design traits will help you keep each of your four design distinctive.

Work to unify the imagery and/or shape-design of each of the designs. 
Your four designs need to work as a group or a set — either as one design with four regions, or as four designs that belong together.

Prepare final design for presentation.   Minimum size total images/designs 18”x24” unless approved via sketches. 

Color Scheme Limitations

The color schemes of the four designs/section will be limited to:
1) Neutrals only with high chroma accents. (small chromatic accents allowed; the scheme should be almost gray (pure neutral), though mixed with your best complement mixes. Thus these "grays" are likely to have some character — some undertone(s) of the source colors, and thus be more visually dynamic than black-white-based pure neutrals.)
2) Near-neutrals only (very close to gray/neutral, with subtle warm/cools via complement mixes. Raise the chroma for this scheme, compared to #1, yet keep the dominating chroma very low.)
3) Predominantly complement mixed colors.  Warm dominant. (keep your dominant chrome low- or middle-low)
4) Predominantly complement-mixed colors.  Cool dominant.  (keep your dominant chrome low- or middle-low)

The goal is to exploit the harmonizing power of a limited palette by dominating the composition with complement-mixed colors based on the same parent colors—that is, colors that have been broken by opposing hues rather than by neutrals.


      1. Explore the range of schemes that are possible based on only a few (2-to-4) parent colors.
      2. Explore the well-unified harmony that is possible when all colors are based only a few colors

Some possible formats/contexts:

There are many formats in which to solve this design problem.

— May be four interiors from a single home or office complex. Each interior will have its own color scheme, yet each scheme is related to the others.
— You might present a single interior rendered in four different schemes.
— May be four related graphic pieces (four billboards in a series, four package designs from a single product line,  four pages of a single web site, four panels of a CD package.)  Avoid simplistic color & shape designs. You might incorporate patterns or textures that allow more varied color use.  If your designs need to be very simple, additional scheme variations will be required.
Painted/Illustration Series—four panels/paintings meant to display as a single composition.  (these do not have to be identical in size/shape).  Four illustrations from a single story.
— A single painting/design with four separate color regions, each region having its own scheme.
Four pages from a single web site. Each page is related to the others graphically, yet has its own scheme.

Selecting your Source Colors:

Your source colors should be either complementary to each other, or nearly complementary. You may choose to work with 2, 3 or 4 source, or parent, colors. All of your color mixes will be based on mixtures of these colors.
— if you use only two source colors, they will be in complementary or a near-complementary relationship.
— if you choose to use three source colors, they will be in a split complementary relationship.
— if you choose four source colors, they will usually be in a double-split complement relationship



Several 4-scheme projects are illustated here.
Some of them are based on this project, others are based on schemes from other assignments.



Alternatives and Suggestions

Glossary | Color Theory Assignments |


Greg Clayton
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